Museums

403. Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History – April 6, 2019 – Detroit, MI

April2019CharlesWright1 (4)April was a scant time of new-place visits for me, but I did kick off the month with an impactful cultural experience, a visit to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History in Detroit.

I’d long been wanting to visit the museum and was excited to finally make it happen one Saturday afternoon. A friend joined me for the experience.

The Charles H. Wright Museum building itself is impressive in its beauty, especially the glass ceiling dome at the center of it. Entering it, we were greeted by friendly museum staff members, who explained the admission options. We opted for general admission rather than admittance to the special exhibits and spent several hours touring through the museum.

The general exhibits are an impressive collection of historical artifacts, fact boards, and experiential displays. We started at the beginning, learning about cultural practices of ancient African nations, then worked our way through exhibits around the slave trade and slavery in America; the Civil War and the Reconstruction era; the Civil Rights movement; and the history of African Americans in Detroit.

The exhibits were a sombering experience to take in. The walk through a reproduction of the hold of a slave ship, with depictions of males, females, and children chained and packed together so tightly, as audio of moaning and wailing played over a loudspeaker was especially emotional for me, almost overwhelming. I cannot fathom what it would be like to be in such an experience, taken from your home against your will and chained up in these tight quarters, lying in your and everyone else’s waste, subjected to extreme cruelty. . ..

It was pretty hard for me to not lose faith in humanity going through this slave ship reproduction and many other exhibits, such as one where a slave trader is rattling off stats about people for sale as if they were cattle. Again, the fact that such a barbaric practice as the buying, selling, and controlling of people was at one time an accepted institution in this country is mind-boggling to me.

It was a moment of emotional respite for me to get to the part of the museum that depicted neighborhoods of Detroit that were historically African-American, such as Black Bottom. It included an expansive representation of the cityscape from that time, with depictions of businesses that you could walk right into such as a drug store with a soda fountain and a barbershop with a mannequin barber cutting hair, which I found super fun. I did not find fun the fact that Black Bottom was demolished to make room for the Chrysler Freeway and other development projects.

The Charles H. Wright Museum does an excellent job of reminding one of these sordid aspects of American history. It’s also a beautiful testiment to the strength and resilience of African-Americans in the face of horrific brutality, rascism, and oppression. Locals and visitors to the Metro-Detroit area alike could benefit from paying a visit to this informative and impactful institution.

315 E. Warren Ave.

Detroit, MI 48201

www.thewright.org

377. Motown Museum – November 24, 2018 – Detroit, MI

November2018Motown3 (2)November2018Motown1 (2)November2018Motown2 (2)After three-plus weeks away, it feels great to be back on 100 Places in the D, highlighting some Detroit goodness!

I didn’t mean to take nearly a month’s hiatus from the blog. But between preparations for the holidays and cray-cray busyness at my day job, it happened – and here I am, on one of the very last days of the year, writing a post for a visit I made over Thanksgiving weekend.

But what a visit it was! On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I jaunted over to the Motown Museum in Detroit to soak up its historical vibes.

I almost didn’t make the 11 a.m. tour I’d purchased tickets online for earlier that morning, due to foolishness on my part (a.k.a. failing to factor in time for parking). Worth noting: the Motown Museum doesn’t have its own parking lot, AND it’s adjacent to a funeral home – which was hosting a visitation on the morning of my visit. So street parking near the museum was scarce.

The good news was that there was metered parking available along West Grand Boulevard, the street on which the Motown Museum is located. I ended up parking across the street and down a ways, near Henry Ford Hospital. From there, it’s only a few minutes’ walk to the Motown Museum.

I scrambled into the museum and up to the ticket counter to check in. Fortunately, I was only a few minutes late, and the staff was kind enough to let me join the tour, which had just started.

I was surprised to find a group of about 20-something people on the 11 a.m. tour, including people from England and Germany and Americans visiting from out-of-state locales. Of course I shouldn’t have been surprised, given that the museum and the Hitsville U.S.A. building at 2648 West Grand Boulevard that it features has a big reputation, having been the birthplace of Motown Records, that venerable music label that produced major acts such as the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5, and Smokey Robinson.

The tour, which lasted about an hour, included a video presentation, viewings of Motown-related memorabilia (including one of Michael Jackson’s famous black fedoras and signature glittery gloves), loads of interesting facts, and walk-throughs of Motown founder Berry Gordy’s former living quarters, the preserved lobby of the Hitsville U.S.A. building, and the famed Studio A recording studio, where our group got to sing and dance along to a few bars of The Temptations’ “My Girl.”

After my visit to the Motown Museum, I’m in awe of what Berry Gordy has achieved. Within years of convincing his family to loan him $800 so that he could start Motown Records, he was making millions and fostering some of the biggest musical acts in the world.

Recalling his time working on a Ford Motor Company assembly line, Gordy applied the assembly-line concept to his Motown artists, hiring coaches to help with dancing, etiquette, and finances to transform incoming fledgling singers and musicians into polished performers.

His hard work and ingenuity paid off – so much so that the Hitsville U.S.A. building that acted as recording studio from 1959 to 1972 is now part of this museum that has attracted thousands of people from all over the world.

On the day of my visit alone, the Motown Museum received high levels of traffic; as I was leaving, I heard a member of the staff tell walk-in visitors there weren’t open spots on a tour until 5 p.m. (it was a little after noon).

Visitor interest must at least partly account for the Motown Museum’s planned expansion in the coming years to a 50,000-square-foot exhibit space with estimated construction costs around $50 million.

It was somewhat hard to fathom that the relatively quaint-looking house I found myself standing within on that November morning was the epicenter of a musical powerhouse. It was a profound piece of history to experience – and one more reason for me to believe in Detroit being one of the coolest cities in the world.

2648 W. Grand Blvd.

Detroit, MI 48208

www.motownmuseum.org

92. Detroit Historical Museum – December 27, 2014 – Detroit, MI

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Shown here is a corner of the 1870s reproduction of Sanders Confectionary, where its beloved hot-fudge sundae only cost 10 cents!

I didn’t even know the Detroit Historical Museum existed until some time in the recent past. Why in the heck did I never go on any school field trips there? My elementary school took us to the Science Center about a jillion times . . .. I know astronaut ice cream is awesome and everything – I’m just suggesting it might lose a little of its luster after a kid’s third visit in about as many years.

The Detroit Historical Museum is definitely worth at least one visit. What a great place for a family trip – it’s fun and educational and FREE admission. (How often is stuff to do with kids free?) And while I’m only a gradeschooler at heart these days, I still found it absorbing enough to spend almost two-and-a-half hours following the history of the D through its journey from a French trading post to a majorly populated American manufacturing hub to a city gravely wounded by racial tensions, crime, and blight to, finally, a survivor-town invigorated by ingenuity, resourcefulness, and reinvention. This story is illustrated by several floors of displays, including the Streets of Old Detroit exhibit, where visitors can walk into and explore reproductions of mid-19th- and early-20th-century city businesses, and the Allesee Gallery of Culture, which thoroughly explores Detroit’s 20th-century rise and fall and rise again through a myriad of artifacts, from a bronzed Joe Louis glove to a Bob Seger guitar. I experienced numerous teary surges of civic pride as I explored the rich history and was reminded how great this area really is.

5401 Woodward Ave.,

Detroit, MI 48202

http://detroithistorical.org/